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Bogus Warning - 'Russian Booksellers Looking For Children'

Outline
Viral social media messages warn that Russian booksellers are going door to door in various US locations with the intention of getting information about children for later abductions and human trafficking.

Door deal

© Depositphotos.com/ Jose Alfonso De Tomás gargantilla



Brief Analysis
The child abduction and human trafficking claims are unfounded and have been dismissed as false by police in various US jurisdictions. Eastern European students working for a direct selling company have been peddling educational material door-to-door, but they are not human traffickers as claimed. The booksellers do reportedly ask questions about children in households they visit with a view to offering the appropriate material for sale. These questions, along with the fairly aggressive selling style of some of the students, has apparently led to the unfounded rumours.

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Example

Alert!... If They Come to Your Door... DO NOT Let Them In!

You can delete this post if you find it inappropriate, but just saw it on the Jamestown page & wanted to alert everyone in case these evil people make it to the North dakota area!

SHARED: I just had a guy stop here claiming he was a college student from Europe selling children books and had a heavy accent. I was just walking outside with the kids and was driving by and seen me so slammed on his breaks. It kind of freaked me out so everyone be carful for him he is in Lancaster right now. I was rude to him cause I read this post from someone else. He was over by Drayton this morning out in the country.

ATTENTION FRIENDS IN THE GILBERT AREA (especially with kids): Last week two young slavic girls came to our house selling Children's books. They asked to come in and were very pushy. They interacted with Maximus for awhile and asked us a ton of questions. They had a binder full of names of families in the area and kept asking over and over for us to give them more names of kids in our neighborhood and surrounding area. They came back two days later again.

Today I found out there is a scam of two women "with heavy accents" going door to door pretending to sell children's books but who are targeting young girls for sex trafficking. There have been abductions from this scam in other states. I spoke with Gilbert PD and they are already investigating. PLEASE CALL THE POLICE if these girls come to your door


Detailed Analysis


According to rumours that have been circulating rapidly via social media posts since July 2013, a sinister group of Russian criminals are posing as door-to-door book sellers in various US locations with the intention of finding out which houses have children suitable for later abduction and human trafficking. Articles about these supposed criminal activities have also been posted on various "alternative" news websites that - rather ironically – promise readers "the truth" but deliberately peddle outright lies.  

These rumours are without substance and their continued circulation serves only to spread unnecessary fear and alarm in communities.

So how did the rumours get started? Well, Eastern European people have indeed been going door-to-door selling books in several American states. But, these booksellers are doing just that. Selling books. They are not human traffickers. They are not criminals.

In fact, the sellers are students employed by educational material supplier, Southwestern Advantage. Silver City Sun-News explains:
The eastern Europeans in question are actually students from overseas working for Southwestern Advantage -- a direct seller and publisher of educational and reference products -- according to Trey Campbell, the company's director of communications. They students are part of a program the company has been operating since 1868, where students have the opportunity to go to a different state -- or in this case, country -- live with a host family, and operate their own business analyzing demographic areas and selling the company's educational materials. Around 1,200 students take part in the program.

"Many of the students are using the money they raise doing this to put themselves through school," Campbell said.

Because of the material they sell, the students do reportedly ask questions about the ages, gender and educational requirements of children living in the households and neighbourhoods they visit. And, they can apparently be quite "pushy" in their approach, being, of course, intent on making as many sales as possible. This has caused some householders to jump to the wrong conclusion about the motives of the students.

Police in various US jurisdictions have investigated the activities of the students and have dismissed child trafficking rumours as unfounded.

New Mexico's Silver City Sun-News further notes:

The Silver City Police Department has found no validity to the text message it received Wednesday regarding a Russian door-to-door book salesmen targeting children for abduction, a rumor that has been circulating in the country for the last month.

Silver City Police and the Grant County Sheriff's Department both warned residents Wednesday to be cautious of anyone coming to the door asking for information about their children. Upon further investigation, the police have found no validity to the rumor and have found that law enforcement officials all over the country have found the same allegations, according to Silver City Police Chief Ed Reynolds.

MyWestTexas.com explains:

Sara Higgins, MPD spokesperson, said the department had fielded nine calls between August 1-19 about “suspicious activity” from Europeans with a thick accent, but, she reported that they have permits, are operating within the law and there have been no reports of any illegal activity.
Anchorage Daily News notes:
Authorities getting panicky calls about heavily accented booksellers targeting Valley children are debunking the rumors going around Anchorage and the Mat-Su.

There's no criminal gang of Russian-speaking people using school-supply sales as a ruse to steal children from their homes, they said.

Alaska State Troopers said the real story is that one or two people from Estonia -- a former republic of the Soviet Union on the Baltic Sea -- are selling educational materials door to door with enough information about the children inside to make parents uncomfortable. They started in Fairbanks and are now working in the Valley.

CBS7 explains:

Corporal Steve LeSueur, told CBS 7 that OPD dispatch has had several calls about “suspicious activity,” which has turned out to be European College Students selling children’s books. Police have responded to one of these calls and, “met with three European college students who did provide all the necessary documentation and permits needed for selling.”

LeSueur says reports of other criminal activity are false and the sales people will leave the area in the first or second week of September.
One of the book peddlers was reportedly arrested in Bay County Florida for not having the proper documentation, amid community panic caused by the child abduction alerts. But local police noted that they "have not been able to corroborate the information in this 'alert' with anything we have investigated here in Bay County."

Some of the warnings claim that child abductions related to the activities of the booksellers have occurred "in other states". However, there are no credible reports about such child abductions occurring anywhere in the United States.

Moreover, it is actually rather absurd to suggest that a gang of criminal child stealers would so openly conduct their business. Obviously, selecting possible targets would be very much a clandestine operation conducted in a way least likely to draw attention from parents of potential targets and police.

These panicked "warnings" are not valid and Internet users should not heed them or share them with others. Certainly, people should be cautious of strangers who approach their homes and be guarded with information they divulge about themselves and their families. Some door-to-door peddlers may have less than innocent motives.

Nevertheless, spreading these malicious rumours unfairly damages the reputations of innocent people and will do nothing whatsoever to keep children safe. Such false "warnings" also waste the time of busy police staff who must field ongoing queries about the stories from concerned members of the public.

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Last updated: August 30, 2013
First published: August 30, 2013
By Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

References
Southwestern Advantage
Silver City Police find no evidence behind door-to-door salesman rumor
Midland Door-to-Door Book Salesmen Trying to Clear Their Names
Unfounded rumors follow Baltic book salesmen
Authorities debunk rumors of Valley child-snatching ring
Police Say Rumors About Door-To-Door Book Sales People Not True
BCSO arrests door-to-door salesman




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